In a story that sounds like every awful tale of rape, bullying and perpetrator-forgiveness as of late, a teenage girl was sexually assaulted by a star athlete at Forest Hills Central High School in Michigan in a soundproof band room. When she reported the incident to a teacher, who then told the principal, she was instructed not to tell police about the rape, as it could jeopardize her rapist’s chances of getting recruited for a college team. Her rapist, you see, was star of the school’s basketball team.
The principal, Terry Uruquhart*, refused to take any action. The girl and her parents feared the rapist would sexually assault somebody else, so they ignored the principal’s incredulous request and filed a report with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department regardless. As they began an investigation, the school remained totally hands-off and the
athlete rapist was free to roam around. And guess what happened two weeks later?
He raped somebody else. Because of course he did. Because when you’re told that something you apparently like to do isn’t wrong, or at least you won’t be receiving any penalties for it, you’re going to do it again (well, if you’re a sick excuse for a human being relying on a severely incompetent conscience, that is).
Meanwhile, the girl became the recipient of horrible bullying, both in-person and via the Internet. The girl was labeled a “whore” who was just trying to ruin the life of a wonderful
athlete rapist, and he and his friends would physically and psychologically torment her in school. The school did nothing despite the girl’s parents repeatedly reporting incidents. Eventually, the girl had to transfer schools, while the athlete rapist was finally arrested and charged.
He pled guilty to a single count of misdemeanor assault and battery — i.e. not rape — and was sentenced to attend Kent County’s Adolescent Sexual Offender Treatment Program. The school decided an appropriate punishment for sexually assaulting a teenage girl was to bench him from playing basketball (briefly).
Now, the school is being sued by the National Women’s Law Center and a local Michigan law firm for failing to protect this girl, as well as all students. NWLC Vice-President of Education and Employment Fatima Goss Graves said:
“This school completely ignored its legal responsibility to address student-on-student sexual harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to protect the victim. The school’s failure to address the harassment sends a chilling message to students that they should remain silent in the face of sexual assault and cannot count on their school to provide a safe learning environment.”
There’s this incredible sympathy that goes out toward rapist athletes, as if they’re being unfairly penalized for making just one teensy tiny mistake like smoking a joint on campus or skipping class — you know, things that don’t lead to permanent repercussions for another human being. The school system does it, parents do it, even the media does it. People are slow to believe the victim and quick to forgive those who didn’t help her.
Rape is not a prank you play on a person and then tell her to get over it when she reacts. It’s an awful, inhuman thing to do to another person, so when will our schools — and, obviously, legal system — begin treating it as such?
I realize this sounds strange and a bit dramatic and it’s not a huge consolation, I’m sure, but I know that it is sometimes helpful just to hear that people are on your side when it feels like nearly everybody is pointing their fingers at you: in the event that you have been raped and are experiencing this type of bullying, just know that we support you, we believe you, and we don’t forgive your attacker.
[*UPDATED: The name of the principal was incorrect, so we have changed this in light of new information.]